Martin Truex Jr. recovers nicely from MWR debacle
Remember that 2013 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup-related scandal that involved Michael Waltrip Racing and its then-drivers — Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr. and Brian Vickers? You remember, that regular-season finale at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway when Clint Bowyer spun late in the race as the result of a suspicious itchy elbow and Brian Vickers was called to pit road for an oddly-timed stop, all seemingly in an effort to get Martin Truex Jr. in that year’s Chase.
Truex did make the Chase for a hot minute before being removed from the Chase field that was swelled by one driver with the addition of Jeff Gordon. Not only were MWR’s antics controversial, NASCAR’s response also left many scratching their heads, especially the call to add an additional Chase spot for Gordon. After all, had MWR not done what it did, would Gordon have made the Chase? Maybe, maybe not. We’ll never know.
When you get right down to it, the MWR antics and the fallout that followed was the beginning of the end for Michael Waltrip Racing, a team that shuttered its operations at the end of the 2015 season. Sure, the team shut down after team owner Rob Kauffman pulled his money to go play in the Chip Ganassi Racing sandbox, but I’m thinking the Richmond controversy of three years ago was really the beginning of the end for MWR.
Why bring this up now, three years later? Honestly, I bring it up because I was reminded of it by SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Tuesday. Why did someone on the station bring it up? Because talk was about Truex. And why shouldn’t it have been? He’s the hottest driver on the Sprint Cup circuit right now. Anyway, the viewpoint was presented that the big MWR 2013 Richmond mess was a blessing in disguise for Truex.
I hadn’t really thought about Truex’s recent success in terms of the 2013 controversy, but when I heard the point made on the radio Tuesday, it made me think. My conclusion: oh my gosh, they’re absolutely right.
When you get right down to it, Truex seemed to be the most-heavily penalized as a result of what happened in Richmond three years ago. One moment he was in the Chase, but in the next minute, he wasn’t. A sour taste was left in the mouths of NAPA execs, apparently, resulting in the auto parts company pulling its sponsorship. As a result, Truex lost his sponsor and then, his ride at MWR. If he left the 2013 season and Michael Waltrip Racing behind him with a bitter taste in his mouth, I certainly wouldn’t have blamed him. After all, he seemed like the one uninvolved, innocent party, here, but yet, he seemed to be the biggest victim of the resulting fallout.
Things didn’t go so well for MWR in the years that followed, but for Truex, things couldn’t look better at this point. We’re talking about a guy who’s a favorite for the 2016 Cup, for crying out loud.
NAPA, obviously, left MWR as a result of the RIR fallout. So, if what happened at Richmond had never happened, it’s probably safe to assume the auto parts retailer would’ve continued its partnership with MWR for at least another year or two. If it weren’t for NAPA’s abrupt departure, Michael Waltrip Racing probably would’ve been in a better position, competition-wise, in the years that followed. With better financial standing and better competition, MWR may not have closed up shop last year. But even if the final result, i.e. closure, for MWR had been the same, Truex probably wouldn’t have lost his ride there at the end of 2013.
That all leaves me to wonder, if MWR were still around with NAPA on the hood of one of its cars, would Truex still be driving that car? I guess that’s something we’ll never know, but it’s possible.
Even if Truex stayed at MWR only one year longer than he did, though, chances are, his path wouldn’t have crossed with that of Furniture Row Racing. After Kurt Busch’s departure at the end of the 2013 season, FRR would’ve gone in some direction other than hiring Truex. After all, in this hypothetical, Truex wouldn’t have been available in 2014. Whatever driver Furniture Row Racing would’ve hired to replace Busch may still be there in this hypothetical situation.
And chances are, not only would Truex not be experiencing the overwhelming success he is in 2016, neither would FRR. After all, the team had a former champion in Busch in its car just before Truex’s arrival, but Busch’s success with FRR doesn’t even hold a candle to the success Truex is having there now. Sure, there are other variables when it comes to results then vs. now, the biggest of those being the manufacturer switch to Toyota, resulting in the partnership with Joe Gibbs Racing. But if things had gone differently since 2013, that switch and the deal with JGR may have never happened. That’s another one of those items we can put in the “we’ll never know” column.
That being said, now that I think about it, not only was the MWR/Richmond 2013 debacle a blessing in disguise for Truex, it was the same for Furniture Row Racing.
See you in the Chase final four in Homestead, Fla. There’s a good chance Truex and Furniture Row Racing will be there. Michael Waltrip Racing? Not so much.